Sometimes I’m convinced Dell is just showing off. The Dell Latitude 7330 is a magnesium-built business laptop with Intel’s business-focused vPro technology, and at just 2.13 pounds, it’s light enough to feel like an empty shell.
That combination of features appeals to a corporate audience and may be just what some IT departments are looking for. But it’s also perhaps the most extreme example of the “thin at all costs” mantra I’ve seen this year. It’s held back by performance that, while not terrible, isn’t worth its multi-thousand dollar sticker price. That’s a shame, because secure, connected, vPro-equipped devices like these could be excellent buys for freelancers and small business owners – if they weren’t such a bad deal for them.
The best part of my Latitude testing period wasn’t using the device, but wearing it. It feels like nothing in my backpack. For some context, it’s over half a pound lighter than its XPS 13 Plus consumer cousin.
That lightness comes with some compromises. The chassis is flexy throughout, it doesn’t seem to meet MIL-STD 810H durability standards, and it looks about as bland and bland as it gets. But Dell promises a light device, not a pretty or chunky device, and the Latitude delivers on the first front.
However, opening and using the thing is a much less remarkable experience. My review unit came with a 16:9, 1920 x 1080 panel with highly visible plastic bezels that I’d expect to see on a sub-$1,000 device. It’s functional, but doesn’t look that great and feels a bit like using an antique. The keyboard, touchpad and speakers are also fine, but not exceptional either.
…but not performance
Performance is my biggest issue with this device and the biggest reason why I don’t think it’s a suitable purchase for many business customers. The Latitude is certainly functional, but it doesn’t offer a $3,000 or even $2,000 performance.
My test unit (MSRP around $3,150, currently listed at $2,047) includes a vPro Core i7-1265U, 512 GB of storage and 16 GB of memory. I don’t see benchmarks as useful here (although I’ve run a few of course – who do you think I am?). I can say after a few days of use that this device falls short of what I generally expect from high-end competitors like the ThinkPad line. vPro, for those unfamiliar, is an Intel technology built into a system’s chips that allows IT professionals to remotely manage, diagnose, and update devices; it also enables a ton of security and virtualization features that make IT departments happy.
First, I only averaged three hours and 35 minutes of battery life, which would be a big deal even if everything else about this device was incredible. But even while in power, I felt the thing trudging towards the higher end of my workload. For example, while I was controlling a second display via Thunderbolt, loading some files from external drives, running a few downloads, and trying to process that in 20-ish Chrome tabs, the Latitude had visible lag. I don’t see this as an unrealistic office workload, so that’s concerning.
I could get photo work done well enough, but heavier programs like Adobe Premiere and Media Encoder were slow. They took ages to open and often crashed. This is more common with thin and light laptops like this one, but much cheaper devices can still get the job done faster when it comes to graphics work. The XPS 13 Plus, for example, also with 16 GB of RAM, was also quite slow to open and operate Premiere, but it still took about half the time the Latitude did to export a 4K video and got a much higher score in PugetBench for Premiere Pro.
This laptop is not worth its current price
You could use this for lighter gaming – Overexpected on Ultra settings, Rocket League at most, and League of Legends were all playable. But Tomb Raider crawled and stuttered at an average of 18fps on the lowest possible setting (a slightly lower score than the P-series XPS got from the game’s highest settings). I understand this isn’t a device intended for gaming, but this result shows just how limited the graphics chops are.
I promise I recognize the value of such a device. The benefits of Intel’s vPro platform, combined with extreme portability, may meet the needs of many individuals and businesses. But other top business laptops, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, offer better performance, battery life, and build for similar prices (while still offering vPro and a host of other business features).
And for freelancers, small business owners, and others who might be looking into the consumer space, the Latitude is an even worse deal. You can currently buy a vPro model of the XPS 13 Plus with a touchscreen and twice the RAM of our Latitude configuration for $1,549 and a vPro model of the regular XPS 13 for just $999. Those devices have a much longer battery life, better displays and a more durable chassis – they look and feel much more expensive.
Business laptops like this have a laundry list of benefits for professionals – not just in terms of remote management, but also in terms of security. The Latitude’s presence sensing, enterprise-class security, and dual-network connectivity can be huge benefits for a family business owner or founder getting a startup off the ground. But I worry about how much those customers would give up to go for this Latitude. And the priorities of IT executives buying massive fleets are beyond my purview as a critic, but my instinct is that you guys should consider models that more reliably serve the varying needs of your entire workforce, special when it comes to battery life.
Photography by Monica Chin